Many of you have asked me about food here, and I think it deserves a little blog space, because it’s actually fairly interesting, and also important in Ugandan culture. Let me start by saying that they have amazing fruit (especially mangoes and pineapple) here. It’s quite delicious. They have an abundance of bananas (they’re smaller than ours, I assume because they aren’t treated with growth hormones like ours are), and they also have these really tiny bananas, called sweet bananas. The sweet bananas aren’t too much different than regular bananas by themselves, but they can be made into an extremely tasty juice. It kind of looks like banana bread batter, but it tastes SO GOOD. That’s probably one of my favorite things to eat here so far.
However, fruit is not one of the staples of the Ugandan diet. It’s a supplement, that one usually eats at breakfast. The rest of the diet is made up almost entirely of different types of starches. The most traditional/common Ugandan staple is called matooke (pronounced mah-TOH-kay); it is made of mashed plantain, has a texture much like mashed potatoes but slightly more chewy, and has little to no taste, depending on who makes it. It is often served along with other Ugandan staples, like rice, potatoes, beans, chicken or beef, and g-nut sauce (a purplish sauce made from g-nuts…I’m still a little unsure about what g-nuts are, but I’ve found that the sauce is essential for adding flavor to a lot of Ugandan food). Sometimes there are multiple types of potatoes, and when I’m not lucky, a dish called posho. Posho is the other traditional Ugandan staple, besides matooke. It’s white, and has a texture much like somewhat stale marshmallow paste. I find it to be mostly tasteless, with a bad aftertaste. Apparentlyit’s made from millet flour, water, and possibly milk. I haven’t seen it made yet, because my family doesn’t really like posho (thankfully).
All of this food is quite filling, and they tend to heap loads of it on one’s plate, so it’s often a challenge to finish the whole meal. (Those of you who were worried I wasn’t going to have enough to eat here can breathe easily!) It’s culturally important to eat everything, or almost everything, on one’s plate, but sometimes there are just too many carbs to fit in one stomach. Before I came here, it had been quite awhile since I had experienced a situation in which I felt like I physically could not eat anymore, but here I have that problem at most dinners.
Oh I almost forgot! The Ugandan version of bread is delicious. It is called chipote (not Chipotle, though I keep associating the words and messing up the pronunciation—it’s supposed to be pronounced like “chip-pot-ee”), and it is somewhat like a mixture of Indian naan and a Mexican tortilla. I really like it a lot, but it’s not available everywhere, and we never have it at home because it’s apparently difficult to make. My host sister has promised to teach me how to make it some weekend though, so that’s exciting.
I said that chipote was the Ugandan version of bread, but I should probably mention that the bread we know is also available here. Mostly it seems to be found at supermarkets, but there are also a few bakeries that make it fresh. The discovery of supermarkets has been a wonderful thing for all of us. When we started classes, we began having to fend for ourselves during lunch hour. We have about an hour for lunch each day, and there are several restaurants within walking distance, but most of them serve the exact same food that we all eat with our families every night. Also, in Ugandan restaurants, we have discovered that even though you are given a menu, ordering should go something like this: “Is there chipote?” And then they will tell you yes or no. If there is not, then you proceed to ask if there is rice, or beans, etc. Restaurants almost never have all of the food that they advertise on the menu (but they always have matooke).
So it was very exciting when we discovered what we have termed “the mzungu shopping center.” This plaza is about a five minute walk from the SIT headquarters, and has two supermarkets that both sell a variety of “mzungu food,” like peanut butter, American candy, cookies, and fresh vegetables. There are also several restaurants that serve food that is not traditional Ugandan food, like smoothies, sandwiches, and pizza, but those are rather expensive. At first I said “I didn’t come to Uganda to eat American food!” but I’ve come to welcome a little break from the Ugandan meals. I invested in a loaf of bread and peanut butter and am thoroughly enjoying sandwiches for lunch now. It also helps me eat more at dinner, which is always a good thing. My host mom was so pleased yesterday when I ate everything on my plate. And we all know it’s always good to have a happy mom in the house:)
That’s all for now. Best from Kampala!